New Surface Pro 5 sports pen with 4,096 levels and tilt
New Surface Pen for Surface Pro 5, with increased levels, tilt, and a rubber eraser
Microsoft has now readied the newSurface Pro 5, which is actually just called the Surface Pro, for release (so I guess it’s time to party like it’s 2013, when the first Surface Pro came out). The new SP is available for preorder. This updated 2-in-1 tablet/laptop has some very interesting offerings for the art crowd.
The biggest difference is the new Surface Pen, which has 4x more levels of pressure sensitivity, making it 4,192, like the new Lenovo Active Pen 2. It also has tilt including shading. It will have the usual button that opens OneNote and other apps. The pen requires an AAAA battery.
This isn’t the Wacom-Microsoft pen we’ve been hearing about (at least, no one has said there’s any Wacom connection is so far). Microsoft is still going with N-trig.
The new pen also still has a rubberish eraser, and hopefully will still have the nib kit with a variety of nibs with different points and textures in a nib kit, like the current Surface Pen.
If the new pen sounds like the Apple Pencil, it underlines how Microsoft sees the iPad Pro as the rival to this version of the Surface Pro. Indeed, the upgraded pen may tilt the scales for artists frustrated with the iPad Pro’s inability to use desktop programs and inefficient file organization.
I’ll have to try out the new pen before knowing if it’s really as sensitive as Apple Pencil. Up to now, I haven’t been that big a fan of the Surface Pen for drawing, but this new one sounds like a different ballgame.
Surface Dial works on Surface Pro 5
Though the new Surface Pro “5” doesn’t look all that different from the Surface Pro 4, it will also work with the puckish Surface Dial, which brings up an array of on-screen menus aimed at designers.
Now, whether or not the Dial will be of much use on a small screen is hard to say. I’m a believer in the potential of the Dial, but right now it doesn’t seem like a must-have accessory. It makes more sense on the gloriously large Surface Studio.
Surface Pro 4 vs. new Surface Pro 5 2017
The pen is the biggest difference. The old Surface Pen had 1,024 levels and no tilt. This one will have tilt for shading; it’s unclear what else they mean by tilt, since they only mention shading. The Apple Pencil both has angle sensitivity with the tip and shading with the side.
Windows Ink apps include Sketchable, Plumbago, Mental Canvas, Drawboard PDF, and StaffPad. Of course, you can use the pen with any program, including Adobe Creative Cloud.
The pen will have backwards compatibility with all the Surfaces going back to Surface 3, including the Surface Book and Studio. It won’t work on the earlier Surface 2 and original Surface Pro, which were Wacom-penabled. It’s safe to assume it will only deliver previous levels of pressure sensitivity on those.
New Surface hinge makes kickstand more adjustable
Another aspect that’s different and consequential for digital artists is that the attached kickstand will go lower then previous ones. The updated hinge is deeper. The angle is designed to work better for those using the pen. So now the pen use is built into the design.
The new design also has more rounded edges and is “softer,” more Apple-like.
Like its Surface cousins, it comes in configurations of Intel 7th Gen. M3, i5, and i7.
The PixelSense screen of the Surface Pro 2017 is the same size and resolution as the PixelSense SP4–sharp, but not 4K.
The company says the new Surface Pro will get up to 13.5 hours of battery life. That reflects a considerably stronger processor. The processors are now Kaby Lake (7th gen) not Skylake (6th gen). Photoshop rendering and video processing should work faster on this.
The new Surface Pro 5 pen is sold separately, as are the Dial and Type Cover. (The Surface 4 included the Surface Pen.)
The new Surface Pro’s graphics cards will be Intel HD Graphics 615 for the M3, 620 for the i5, and Iris Plus Graphics 640 for the i7. These are next-generation and a bit faster.
The high-res PixelSense screen will be 10-pt. multitouch, 12.3″ diagonal, with a 3:2 aspect ratio, which we like.
The keyboard is upgraded with improved key travel.
Each model will weigh about 1.7 lbs or 766-786g, making it easy to carry around.
Microsoft is talking about how it goes from “laptop” mode to “studio” mode to “tablet” mode.
Apple may be getting nervous about the new Surface Pro 5. On the other hand, perhaps the competition will spur Apple to make a real laptop or even a monitor with an active digitizer.
Microsoft does plan to make a Surface Pro with LTE.
At work using multitouch on the Microsoft Surface Studio.
Microsoft Surface Studio review
Along with the refreshed Surface Pro 4 with Performance Base, Microsoft has just released this large all-in-one, the Surface Studio, that will go nicely with a Starbucks Trenta (that’s the 31-oz. cup). How big is it? It’s 28″ and has lots of features, including four input methods for the touchscreen–with all that caffeine, you’ll be as productive a semi-octopus. I got to try it out and penned this Microsoft Surface Studio review.
Resolution: 4500 x 3000 (192 DPI)
Color gamut: sRGB, DCI-P3, Vivid Color Profiles, individually color calibrated
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Aspect Ratio: 3:2
Zero Gravity Hinge that folds to 20 degrees
Processor: Quadcore 6th Gen Intel i5 or i7
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 4GB
Memory: 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB RAM
Storage: 1TB or 2TB
Dimensions: 25.09 x 17.27 x 0.44 in. (637.35 x 438.90 x 11.4 mm)
Weight: up to 21.07 lbs (9.56 kg)
Ports: Four USB 3.0
Full-size SD card reader
Cameras: Windows Hello 5.0MP front-facing camera, 1080p HD video
What’s in the Box?
The Microsoft Surface Studio has an amazingly thin, 12.5 mm 28″ PixelSense screen with 10-point multitouch and comes in models from i5 with 16 GB to i7 with 32 GB RAM. With a light touch of the Zero Gravity Hinge, the screen folds to any angle down to 20 degrees, similar to the angle of a drafting table. This is positive, because 20 degrees is the best angle for ergonomics–it’s “neutral” on your wrists.
The GPU options are 2GB NVIDIA GeForce with 1 or 2 TB memory. You should be able to have lots of fun and games on those. It even has XBox Wireless built in. Though its primary use will likely be art and design, can use it as an entertainment center, art studio, monitor, or very expensive drafting table.
The lower-end models of the Surface Studio, if you can call something this fancy lower-end, use the GTX 965M and the highest-end one has the GTX 980M. Both of these are from last year, and considerably less powerful than the latest GTX 1070. So if you’re working in CAD programs, it won’t be the fastest that’s possible. For Adobe programs and most 3D use it would be fine.
Surface Dial and Mouse
The Surface Dial is a sleek-looking puck that reminds me of gizmos of the future from the movie Sleeper. You place it on the screen, where it can open up the Radial Menu, or use it as a color picker. It’s even got haptic feedback. You turn it to access various settings, such as opening up menus of tools, palettes, or brush options. The dial has a black magnetic bottom that gets some traction on the screen, but doesn’t stick like a refrigerator magnet, you have to hold it.
The curvy Surface Mouse also can be used directly on the screen. So there are four possible touchscreen options–the mouse, the dial, the pen, and your fingers. Perfect if you like to accessorize. The Dial may feel gimmicky, and if you’re into keyboard shortcuts, turning the Dial may slow you down. Others may enjoy its tactility.
Adobe didn’t work with Microsoft on the Radial Menu, so it doesn’t offer granular support for the programs, and it’s not customizable in the same way as Wacom ExpressKeys. You make adjustments in Windows Settings. The dial will work via Bluetooth with the Surface Pro 3, 4, and Book (Surface Pro 3 and up) but the on-screen functions will only work on the Surface Studio.
It’s not that easy to say what the advantage is over something like the Wacom Feel Driver’s on-screen radial menu for tablet PC. That’s not an option for the Surface, but if you prefer an easily accessible on-screen menu, you might want to try the Tablet Pro app.
Surface Dial with Radial Menu
The power cord comes with a release grip, which is convenient since you might not be moving this around that much.
The screen is glossy, and if you don’t want that you’ll probably need a custom-made screen protector. With 13.5 million pixels, it’s 63% over 4K. Or, since the Surface Pen has a variety of nibs, some of which provide some bite, you could draw with one of these nibs. You can quickly switch color profiles, which are individually calibrated.
The sharp resolution, individualized color profiles, endless angle adjustability (to 20 degrees) and inviting 3:2 aspect ratio all make quite a feast for art. Adobe RGB Is not specifically supported; instead it’s DCi-P3, 25% larger than sRGB and similar to the iMac Retina.
Not much. But at around 21 pounds, it’s more portable than some desktops. And it looks really nice. The Bluetooth keyboard is full-size but light, with good key travel.
The Microsoft Surface Studio is basically a huge Surface Pro 4 with higher specs. Storage won’t be a problem, at least not for a while, with 1 to 2 terabytes.
9-16 hours, not bad at all.
Drawing on the Surface Studio
The Surface Pen is included, and gets 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity via its N-trig digitizer, and same with its eraser end. That’s a far cry from the new, compact Wacom MobileStudio Pro‘s 8,192 levels, but hey, who’s counting. 1,024 is plenty and enough for a smooth pressure curve. S
However, compared to Wacom’s offerings, the Surface Pen isn’t quite there in terms of fluidity, and there’s no tilt or rotation sensitivity. It also requires more pressure than a Wacom pen to make a mark on the screen.
With something this expensive, it’s disappointing to not have tilt. It seemed like less of a compromise in the smaller Surfaces, since those were portable and could replace laptops and tablets. But this is a studiobound art tablet. It has lots of redeeming features, including the thinness, hinge, and relative lightness, as well as all the other good stuff (like the way over 4K display). This could work very well for photo editing.
The Zero Gravity Hinge with 80 custom-set springs feels wonderfully weightless and the screen simply floats up and down, coming to a firm rest at 20 degrees–it doesn’t go all the way flat. As with the computer’s smaller cousins, the Surface Pen sticks magnetically to the upper-right side of the frame.
The screen is glossy, but not glarey and it doesn’t feel too slippery. It didn’t bother me that there was no “tooth” or screen protector.
The Studio would suit some people great, but others might prefer something Wacom. You can read some creatives’ reactions to the Studio in this Endgadget article. One who gave a quick Microsoft Surface Studio review lamented the lack of tilt sensitivity.
Gorgeous display would impress clients
Effortlessly adjustable hinge goes to ergonomically sound 20-degree angle
Will work with Creators 10 update focused on 3D and augmented reality
full touchscreen, pressure sensitivity
Pen has several nibs with varied textures
Dial has a lot of potential in future applications including Creators 10
Pricey (though Microsoft says it’s a great value, and you are getting a lot, but still)
Lack of tilt sensitivity for pen
Processor not the fastest or latest
I’m a bit wary of investing this much into an all-in-one, because of the speed at which computers obsolesce. You can keep a Cintiq around longer than the average computer, and Cintiqs hold their value longer. The Cintiq Companion 2 and the Wacom MobileStudio Pro can be attached to a larger monitor so that you can draw on and see your creation on the larger screen.
The Surface Studio is not the first large all-in-one, but it’s certainly the most powerful. Some Wacom-alternative companies have put out all-in-ones but they are seldom seen, and don’t have high specs like this one.
The Surface Studio has great build quality. Its hinge is graceful. There are plenty of ports. It’s gorgeous and would wow clients who walk in–which can be quite valuable.
If size and power are what you need, and you want the convenience of the hinge, this might be all you need.
Vaio Z Canvas review: Cool 2-in-1 with desktop-PC power
The Vaio Z Canvas is a really powerful tablet PCs out there, and it’s designed for artists. If you’re looking for something like a Cintiq Companion 2 or Surface Pro 4, you may want to consider the Z Canvas.
Vaio was once part of Sony, but the Sony got out of the computer business. Several hundred designers and engineers at Vaio found investors and formed their own company in Japan using the same factory. The U.S. division opened in autumn of 2015. The fledgling company is seeking ways to distribute their devices and educate the public about them.
Now that’s a skinny keyboard.
Other than the name, they have no connection to Sony, and now they have creative freedom. They have advanced what began as the Sony Vaio line, creating this as a mega-tablet for graphics professionals.
Vaio designed the Z Canvas in consultation with illustrators, animators, and photographers, including from Adobe, to create this powerful prosumer 2-in-1. (Prosumer is a device for professionals and consumers). Each unit gets the engineers’ “Azumino Finish” 50-point quality check.
Runs: Windows 10
Screen: 12.3 inch (diagonal)
Resolution: WQXGA+ 2560 x 1704
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Build: unibody aluminum, brushed aluminum surface
Color gamut: 100% sRGB, 95% Adobe RGB
Digitizer: N-trig with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity
Pen (included): DuoSense, takes an AAAA battery
Processor: Intel Core i7-4770HQ quadcore hyperthreaded
RAM: 8GB or 16GB (not upgradeable)
Storage: SSD 256 GB Serial ATA or SSD 512 GB PCI Express or 1 TB PCI Express
Graphics: Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics
Battery: 63-watt high-capacity
Dimensions: tablet 8.4 in x 11.9 in. x 0.5 in – 11.9 in
Keyboard: 8.4 in x – 11.9 in x .02 in
Weight: PC Approx. 2.67 lbs.
Keyboard: about .75 lbs. (12 oz.)
Ports: Two USB 3.0
SD memory card reader
LAN (RJ45) port
Front camera .92MP, rear camera 8MP
What’s in the Box
Power cord and AC adapter
The Z Canvas’s 3:2 aspect ratio makes it easier to use in both landscape and portrait, but the easel stand, as with most tablets, only works in landscape mode.
The super-sharp screen boats a wide color gamut of 100% sRGB and 95% of the larger Adobe RGB gamut, making it excellent for artists who demand color accuracy. It’s unusual for a tablet to have the Adobe RGB gamut and if it does, it’s usually not such a high percentage. (The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S has a similarly wide gamut, and the Surface Pro 4 gets about 70% of Adobe RGB.) The IPS display looks great, with rich colors and deep contrasts, as well as good viewing angles.
The Vaio Z Canvas in action, with drawing in Photoshop and 3D sculpting in Zbrush.
5 – 6 hours with mixed use.
The Intel Core i7-4770HQ quadcore processor is extraordinary for a tablet and is usually found on laptops 15″ or larger. The Vaio Z is really a mobile workstation that functions as desktop replacement. It’s close to the MacBook Pro Retina in terms of processing power, and twice as fast as the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. It uses the 4th-gen. Haswell CPU rather than the latest Skylake, but the hyperthreading makes up for it–this machine can multitask.
The most compared product to it is the Surface Pro 4, but The Z Canvas is much more powerful and so unusual that it’s in a class by itself–a tablet mobile workstation. The question is if the Z Canvas a quirky, short-lived bunch of ideas, or a step in the direction of art tablets overpowering other tablets and replacing desktops.
The “Z engine” is the core of the Z series design. It has to do with dense circuitry and heat dissipation. There’s a bit more info here (it’s in Japanese, but if you have a Translate button it will translate).
The computer with its three fans runs cool and quiet. The nice-looking vent blows air out of the top. Among elements that contribute to its cooling system are big copper pipes on the inside. The power brick, though, can get toasty.
Triple fans and copper piping keeo the hot away.
A fast processor makes everything faster: bootup, opening programs, and graphics rendering. The Vaio is suitable for 2D and 3D animation, video editing, AutoCAD, and light to moderate gaming. While some desktops are faster, and this isn’t exactly a gaming machine, it’s the most powerful tablet so far. The Iris graphics are comparable to discrete graphics on other tablet PCs.
PORTABILITY The tablet alone weighs about 2.7 lbs. and with the keyboard gets to over 3.25 pounds, and then add in the pen and power brick. It’s not terribly light, but still portable. In comparison, the Surface Pro 4 tablet part weighs about 1.7 lbs. and with the keyboard, about 2.3 lbs.
The very thin keyboard is chiclet-style and has low travel, but is quiet and not hard to use. It’s not backlit, making it inconvenient for use in the dark. If you’re someone who likes to lie on a bed or couch to use your computer, it’s probably not the best choice, as the stand isn’t meant to balance on lumpy blankets or breathing bellies.
The keyboard is meant to stay separate from the screen, as with a desktop. It’s not Bluetooth but RF (Radio Frequency) so doesn’t need to be paired, though you need to have Bluetooth turned on for the RF to work.
The keyboard should be kept within 20” (50 cm) away from the tablet for optimal performance. Also, remember to keep thongs with magnetic strips, such as credit cards, away from it.
It connects via magnets and a couple of pins in the bezel or a micro USB. Connecting it charges the keyboard battery, but only the RF actually makes the keyboard work.
You can’t stand the tablet up via the keyboard. The keyboard snaps on top of it and forms a protective cover.
Drawing no. 2 shows the ideal position of the keyboard, according to Vaio. Images by Vaio.
There is a button that can toggle the keyboard power on and off so the keyboard won’t drain the battery.
You may find it most comfortable to put the keyboard a little behind the tablet, or to the side. These images, created by Vaio for a prototype, discourage the viewer from using the keyboard in the front, saying it causes fatigue. The second image is considered ideal. You might even try it the keyboard behind the screen–each user is different.
If you avail yourself of the Z Canvas’ on-screen shortcut menu, you won’t need to use the keyboard that much while drawing.
The easel stand is also unusual. Vaio, thinking ahead, says the idea is that the user might “unconsciously” want to change the angle of drawing, so they have designed the stand to be intuitive and easy to adjust without interrupting workflow.
You put the tablet on a table first then pull the stand down from where it’s ensconced flush in the middle of the back of the tablet, then push or pull the tablet to your desired angle. You can press reasonably hard while drawing without pushing it down.
To close it, push down on the tablet rather than closing it with your hand. You can set the tablet to any angle between 90 and 20 degrees, so fairly low to high. Vaio says the mechanism is made up of “springs, dampers, and cams.”
The Z Canvas is not very lappable, though with some effort it can be done. Best to place the keyboard on your lap and the tablet on a flat surface.
DRAWING ON THE VAIO Z CANVAS
The pen is N-trig, the digitizer tech now owned by Microsoft.
Two pen buttons sit flush in the barrel near the nib. The included soft grip collar provides a comfy, cushioned way to hold the pen, like memory foam for the fingers. Or you can go austere and take it off. Either way, the buttons are accessible. There is no eraser end. The buttons do right-click, open a clipping tool for making screen shots, and open OneNote
The pen attaches not that securely to a magnetic strip. There’s also a pen holder that attaches to holes on either side of the magnetic strip for a stronger way to keep the pen handy. The holder can be taken off with a pinch.
The pen has a tail cap, adding to the pen pieces to make sure to keep together—the cap, nib, battery, and collar.
Vaio pen, wearing its grip collar
Vaio worked hard to reduce parallax since the days of the Sony Vaio Flip. N-trig never did have much of a parallax issue, so they’re being perfectionistic here in trying for the look and feel of ink flowing right from the nib.
Instead of a gap of air between the top touch panel and the LCD, there’s now a thin layer of gel (optical resin), bringing the pen tip closer to the LCD. The DuoSense pen seems to be the same pen as with the old Sony Vaio devices.
You can also use the Surface Pen and its variety of nibs.
As with the Surface Pro 4, there are 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which feels a lot smoother than N-trig’s previous 256. There’s some hover lag, and you need to press down a bit harder than with Wacom pens. There does seem to be less drawing lag than with the Surface Pro 4. The nib is longer than on the Surface Pen.
The pressure curve is excellent (no blobs or sudden shifts, as sometimes happens with Wacom) and can be adjusted in the pen pressure utility. The nib has a bit of bite compared to the regular tip of the Surface Pen, so drawing doesn’t feel like skating over glass, but you may still want to use a matte screen protector if you prefer a more papery surface. (Photodon makes excellent screen protectors and there’s one specifically for the Vaio Z Canvas here.)
You can adjust the pen pressure curve via four points in the Pen Pressure Utility while viewing preview.
Vaio Z Canvas vs. Cintiq Companion 2. The Z Canvas can be compared to the Cintiq Companion 2 as art-specialized 2-in-1 tablets and to the Surface Pro 4 as well.
The screen of the Cintiq Companion 2 is a larger 13.3″ vs. the Z Canvas’ 12.3″, and the CC2 has a textured surface, vs. the Vaio’s smooth one. The Companion 2 also has an EMR pen, which is the most sensitive (besides the Apple Pencil) and offers tilt sensitivity, as well as rotation sensitivity with the ArtPen, drawing more organic lines. The CC2’s aspect ratio is 16:9, making it less appealing to use in portrait mode.
The Vaio’s screen is brighter at 250 nits to the Companion’s 150, and the Companion 2 has only about 5 hours of battery life on a good day–neither device has a very long battery life.
The Vaio’s pen has less parallax and no edge jitter, but you have to press harder.
The Surface Pro 4’s screen is the same size and aspect ratio though much brighter at 436 nits; it doesn’t cover as much of the Adobe RGB gamut, though. The SP4 weighs a pound less; and the digitizer also does not recognize tilt or rotation. The SP4 gets half the speed and power of the Vaio. The keyboard cover attaches to the Surface Pro 4 and holds it up. Battery life is about the same.
Which to get is a tough and individual decision. The highest-spec “enhanced” Cintiq Companion 2 comes the closest to the Vaio and is fast, but is still dual-core and doesn’t hit the Vaio’s speed.
TRACKPAD The trackpad is large and works well, but doesn’t support 5-point gesture, which could be annoying if you’re used to using gesture on it, but I don’t think that’s a major issue.
Camera oddness. The Vaio has two cameras and oddly, the front facing one is only 1 MB (actually, .92). So you won’t be as tempted to spend a lot of time Skyping. The rear camera is a healthy 8 MB. You could go out and take photos and enjoy the 12.3″ inch preview. Or you could skip using a scanner by photographing your reference image, line drawing, or traditional art, etc. then importing it into your art program.
CONTROLS Two buttons on either side of the top edges reach a whole new level of cool. The one on the right shuts off the touchscreen, making it impervious to any palm-rejection glitches that might occur if your hand gets in the way of the hover area.
The left button brings up the customizable on-screen shortcuts, similar to those you would find on a graphics tablet or Cintiq. The shortcuts can be customized for each art program. You can use the automatic-fit setting so the menu won’t cover program icons.
You can also shut off the trackpad, which could come in handy if your hand keeps hitting it by accident.
Vaio Pencil Board. You put the square over the part of your image you want to protect from changes.
Another interesting feature also found on the Vaio Flip is the Pencil board, accessible from the Tools menu. It gives you a transparent square that you can put over part of the screen, blocking any changes to it. It pleasantly slides around the screen. You can adjust its size and transparency, though it doesn’t become totally transparent. It’s easy to toggle on and off.
More art-specialized features: The unique mapping controls allow you to map the tablet to multiple monitors, so you can use the tablet as a sort of Cintiq, an input device for a larger display, making good use of the two ports that each support a 4K monitor.
More about those two buttons on top (the Express Keys or hotkeys and Disable Touchscreen): the hotkeys can be used on-screen even with the touchscreen is disabled–pretty ingenious, and it’s not hard to see why the disable-touch button has a patent pending.
USER REVIEWS AND EXPERIENCES A lot of artists voice enthusiastic praise in their Vaio Z Canvas reviews. For many, it’s the tablet they’ve been waiting for. Users love the speed, multitasking and multimedia abilities, and the touches such as the Pencil Window and keyboard shortcut menu.
On the downside, some feel it’s a bit heavy, or too difficult to balance other than on a flat table.
Pros Powerful, fast processor
SD card slot that lets you push card all the way in
Can open the back
easy disabling of touch
good amount of ports, including Ethernet
Lots of ports (for a tablet)
Cons Some (not all) users have had problems with keyboard disconnecting
Not very lappable
Keyboard not backlit
Not the lightest tablet
Memory not upgradeable (as with most tablets)
Some glitches some users have noted are: light bleed; pen fragility; and issues with the keyboard disconnecting.
Despite a few odd choices (such as lack of a backlit keyboard, and the 1MP front camera), the Vaio Z Canvas is a powerful art tool with a “cool factor.” Too bad it doesn’t have a specially made carrying case. Or a USB-C port. Despite all this, our Vaio Z Canvas review is positive, because of all the good things it does have.
It’s probably the only tablet truly good for editing 4K video. It works well with AutoCAD too. It’s ideal for video editors or those working with very large photo and art files. Others won’t need all the power and may choose a larger screen.
The main sticking points are the small screen size, and, I still prefer the feel of Wacom pens and digitizers but that’s an individual thing (I’m a light presser). Many people are happy with both the Vaio pen and the Surface Pen, and both work on this. We will see what the future holds with the Wacom-Microsoft pens due out this holiday season.
Much work has gone into catering to the needs of graphics professionals, making the Z Canvas a powerful addition to any artist’s arsenal.
Surface Pro 4 Review: a go-anywhere drawing solution
by Tablets for Artists
Type of Tablet
Surface Pro 4 Review: Convertible 2-in-1 with pen
The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book (read our review) have arrived on the scene to a great deal of fanfare. Some artists who already have a Surface Pro 3 may be wondering if it’s worth getting the 4. Others may be trying to decide between the SP4 and the pricier Book.
The SP4 can become a laptop when you add the optional (purchased separately) Type Cover; it’s a tablet-first device, whereas the Book is a laptop-first device. The Pro 4 and the Book have the same screen resolution, a very high 271 ppi, though the Book’s screen is larger. Both the SP4 and Book are built from magnesium alloy and come in just one color, a silvery gray, though the SP4’s Type Cover adds a splash of color, with 6 colors. Only the Onyx (black) has the fingerprint sensor, though, to give you that Get Smart cred.
UPDATE: There have been many reports of short battery life and other issues and this takes a bit of glow off the Surface Pro 4 review, which would otherwise be very positive. The last updates issued by Microsoft were Dec. 2 and Dec. 17, which fixed some issues but not the power management. They did suggest a workaround, which you can read here, which is to put it into hibernate instead of sleep mode. Also, Windows Hello facial recognition drains the battery and may be to blame for the issues. You can say bye-bye to Hello by turning it off in Settings> Accounts > Sign-in options. Will be following these issues and updating further.
UPDATE #2: Microsoft issued a Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book firmware update on Jan. 27, 2016. This one improves battery charging, Bluetooth, and the fingerprint sensor. Apparently it improves the sleep bug (the battery drain issue) but does not completely fix it. You should receive a notification on your device, and follow instructions. They should automatically install, but if you’re doing it manually, go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Check for updates and follow the steps.
UPDATE #3: Microsoft released a slew (16!) updates in April, 2016, which apparently have corrected issues with screen flickering and waking up from sleep or hibernation, and other issues. Guess the early adopters were really beta testers. Anyway, it’s considerably improved. Note that they do not install all at once after you update.
Windows 10 Pro
Screen Resolution: 2736 x 1824 pixels (271 ppi)
Processor: 6th-generation Intel Core i5; i7; entry-level model has Intel Core M3
RAM: 4 GB, 8GB, or 16GB
Hard Drive: models with 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and1 TB
Ports: one USB 3.0, MicroSD slot
Core M3 model is fanless; others have hybrid cooling system
Kickstand allows posing at any angle
Glass trackpad 40% larger than SP3
8 MP rear camera, 5 MP front (SP3 had 5MP for both)
new Surface Pen and nib kit included
Pen has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity
graphics are all integrated, no discrete
Keyboard has fingerprint sensor (only the Onyx/black color)
weight 1.76 lbs. (786 g) tablet only; 2.44 lbs. including Type Cover and pen
What’s in the Box
Surface Pro 4
Quick Start Guide
Safety and warranty documents
Surface Pro 4 vs. Surface Pro 3
As you can see, the Surface Pro 4’s screen is a bit bigger; its screen resolution is quite a bit higher, and it still manages to be a little lighter. Microsoft’s PixelSense screen is a mere 400 microns thick and uses Gorilla Glass 4; the Surface Pro 3 used Gorilla Glass 3 and did not have PixelSense, which pushes the optics closer to the screen. The footprint is the same on the SP4 and SP3, as is the 3:2 aspect ratio, which resembles a sheet of drawing paper. This aspect ratio, which emulates the Golden Mean, is generally better to draw on than the 16:9 tablets. The pen now magnetically snaps to either side of the tablet, instead of using a pen loop.
There is also no Start button on the tablet bezel in the SP4; there was in the SP3, but it’s less useful in Windows 10.
Here is a Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface Pro 4 comparison chart.
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 3
11.5 by 7.93 by 0.33 inches
11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches
SP4: 7% thinner
SP4: 5% larger
N-trig, 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity
N-trig, 256 levels of pressure sensitivity
SP4: 4x as pressure-sensitive
2736 x 1824
2,160 x 1,440
SP4: 60% more pixels
Screen ppi (pixels per inch)
SP4: 27% denser
Intel gen. 6
Intel gen. 4
SP4: 30% faster
Weight (tablet only)
1.69 lbs, 767g - Core M
1.73 lbs, 786g - i5 and i7
1.76 lbs, 798 g
SP4: slightly lighter (4% for Core M, 2.5% for Core i5and i7)
Surface Pro 4 with Surface Pen
The Surface Pro 4 with i5 with 128 or 256 GB of flash storage would be fine for most artists who use Photoshop or the whole Adobe Suite. But if you use really resource-intensive programs, then the i7 is better. For instance, Autocad 3D requires the i7.
The Book has an option with dedicated NVIDIA GeForce graphics, good for gaming or getting a boost in Photoshop performance.
9 hours of video for the 8GB Ram i5 with 256 GB storage
At 1.76 pounds, it’s very portable. If you add on the Type Cover (.64 lbs./292 g) and pen (21 g) then you get about 2.43 lbs., still not a bad load.
The new Surface Pen for Surface Pro 4 (see it on Amazon) snaps to the sides of the tablet via magnets, unlike the Surface Pro 3 and earlier Surfaces which had a pen loop. The pen is much improved, now enabling 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. Not only that, but it has its own nib kit , which has 4 tips that simulate artist pencil leads of HB (preinstalled), H, 2bB B, and a fine-point pen. The nib kit does not come with the pen that comes with the tablet. You can buy it separately (it’s inexpensive) or, if you buy an additional pen, the kit is included. The pen that comes with the Surface Pro 4 has a silver barrel, but the additional pens come in other colors.
The pencil leads have some friction and give some bite, somewhat like drawing on paper. Another boon is that you can buy a nib kit if your nibs wear down or get lost. The pen also has an eraser tip that feels cushiony. The previous pen had two buttons, one of which activated the eraser, but this new one has just one, which can open OneNote or Cortana, or take a screenshot if you double-click the button. Microsoft says the new pen has reduced latency–perhaps it won’t go into sleep mode when not touching the screen, so will be faster. The digitizer is N-trig, connected by Bluetooth, and takes an AAA battery that Microsoft says lasts a year. The pen itself (the barrel, not talking about inking) comes in 5 colors.
new Surface Pen nib kit
Compare this to the previous Surface Pen, which delivered 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. Its single, preinstalled nib would wear out quickly and was not replaceable, forcing you to buy another pen. So if you’re ready to buy one, the new Surface Pen is the right choice. The new pen is backward compatible with the Surface Pro 3, though you’d still get 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, not the 1,024 of the Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book.
For some images and discussion of drawing with the Surface Pro 4 pen, and a comparison with Wacom pens, please see this review of the Surface Book. Here’s an image of the line from one of the pen tips. You can change the canvases as well as the brushes in your art program to get different effects with the different tips.
While this is cool, there are many, many brushes available for Photoshop and you can get any effect. Depending on your screen, though, you might not get the little “bite” of friction that the pencil nibs offer.
Surface Pro 4 Type Cover
The Type Cover has been redesigned and is also backward-compatible with Surface Pro 3. It has dedicated buttons for Windows shortcuts, media controls, and screen brightness. The Type Cover comes in 6 colors, and is lighter and slimmer than its predecessor. The keys are now spaced apart and have better travel for faster and more comfortable typing. The keys are sturdier than on the last version, and the keyboard has a better magnetic connection to the tablet part. The trackpad with 5-point multitouch is 40% larger, and now made of glass. You can fold back the cover so you can still use the tablet while it’s connected, or fold it over the tablet to protect the screen. The keys are backlit.
Only the Onyx (black) Type Cover uses Windows Hello, a fingerprint ID system that lets you log in to the computer and shop in the App Store. It costs a bit more than the non-fingerprint ID Type Covers (there is also a non-fingerprint-ID Onyx Type Cover). The Onyx fingerprint Type Cover can be pre-ordered from the Microsoft Store here.
The Surface Dock is optional. It can be used with the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book. It provides two additional ports: four USB 3.0 ports, and two 4K-capable DisplayPort outputs. The slender Surface Book lacks an Ethernet port, but the dock provides one. This can come in handy when traveling in places without steady Wi-fi.
new Surface Pen and nibs
hybrid cooling system (or fanless on the Core M) quieter
Still not ideal as a laptop replacement, due to top-heaviness
Opinions divided on N-trig
If you like N-trig, then this is a very promising computer with great specs for speed, a display that’s high-resolution with high contrast for deep blacks, lightweight, and it can do double duty as a laptop, though the Type Cover doesn’t feel as solid as a traditional laptop. For now, though there are still battery drain issues to be fixed, the workaround should provide release. Even taking that into account, this Surface Pro 4 review is mostly positive, and this sleek machine opens a new chapter in the Surface Pro story.
UPDATE: Many users have had a short battery life and other problems. Microsoft last issued and update on Dec. 2 and 17th, but the power management has not been addressed. Their suggested workaround, is to not use sleep mode, where the battery drains, but rather hibernate. Windows Hello may be the core of the problem.. You can say good-bye to Hello by shutting it off in Settings> Accounts > Sign-in options.
UPDATE #2: Another firmware update has been released for the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 on Jan. 27, 2016. This one is for Bluetooth, battery, and fingerprint sensor, but though the battery drain issue anecdotally is better, it’s still there. To see more about updates, check this page on Microsoft’s site.
Type of tablet
Magnesium build, including keyboard
Windows 10 Pro
12.30” x 9.14” x 0.51 – 0.90” (312.3mm x 232.1mm x 13.0 – 22.8mm)
Screen: 13.5” PixelSense display
Resolution: 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
1700:1 contrast ratio gives you deep blacks
10 point multi-touch
Two USB 3.0 ports
SD card reader
Surface Connect (an 80-pin connector)
Solid state drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
5.0MP front-facing HD camera
8.0MP rear-facing camera
Dual microphones (front and back); Dolby speakers
Starting at 2.34 lbs. (1,516 grams) including keyboard base
Glass trackpad with 5-point multitouch
Intel Iris processor on the i7
4.5 lbs. with keyboard, 1.6 lbs. for clipboard (tablet) only
Power and volume buttons on clipboard (tablet)
The camera on the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 is compatible with the Hello Windows facial recognition software that lets you use your face instead of saying “Swordfish” (or typing in a password) The Book does not have a fingerprint reader, so you can’t log in that way; only the fingerprint-reader model of the Onyx SP4 Type Cover does.
The discrete graphics are in the keyboard case, so when you detach the keyboard, the Book will switch back to regular integrated graphics, which are strong enough to do most things, but if you are using 3D programs and the like, you would need to flip the screen over and keep the keyboard on.
What’s in the box
Surface Book and keyboard
The Gorilla Glass display is super sharp, with 6 million pixels at 271 ppi (same ppi as in the slightly smaller Surface Pro 4, which has about 5 million pixels). Microsoft claims it will get the entire sRGB color gamut. The blacks are deep. The screen is 12.3 inches wide, and 13.4″ diagonally, with a small bezel. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is intentionally made to the proportions of a standard A4 sheet of paper. The screen is 21% larger than on the Surface Pro 4.
At about 3.4 lbs. including the keyboard and pen (pen weighs 21 g or about three-quarters of an ounce), it would start to feel heavy after carrying it around for a short time–maybe consider a rolling laptop case. The clipboard (tablet) without the keyboard weighs 1.6 lbs, quite light.
12 hours video with keyboard attached
3 hours with screen only (4 hours without video)
Microsoft says then when the lid is down, the battery will not drain.
To draw and get the longer battery life, you can remove the screen then flip it around and re-attach it to the keyboard so the screen is facing up. (see Update above for notes on widespread battery drain issues)
Call me Clipboard. Microsoft is calling the tablet part of the computer the “clipboard,” lest you forget to think of the Surface Book as a laptop. It’s first a laptop, second a tablet. Got it?
Good-bye, pen loop. The pen now snaps to either side of the clipboard via magnets.
The “dynamic fulcrum” hinge
The innovative accordian-like hinge that Microsoft calls “dynamic fulcrum” gives a rounded edge, making it more comfortable to hold in your palm than a rectangular edge. When shut, there is a small gap between the keyboard base and screen. The hinge uses a wire dubbed “Muscle Wire” as part of the sinew that holds the two halves together. The hinge is strong and you can pick up the whole device by the keyboard or display. You can also open the Book to any angle. The Surface Book does not have the stand attached to the back that the Surface Pro line has, so if you want to prop up the tablet, er, clipboard, alone, you will have to use an exterior stand.
One Microsoft Surface Book review found that having the gap between the keyboard and clipboard was a problem when carrying it in a bag–dust and dirt would end up on the keyboard. So storing it in a laptop sleeve might be a good idea.
To detach the clipboard, you press a button on the keyboard. If you’re using the Nvidia graphics, which will cease to work once you take off the keyboard, you will see a notification.
You hold down a key on the keyboard for a couple of seconds until you see this pop up. You will get another message when you have successfully attached it. The detaching/attaching process is not super simple.
Microsoft calls it a “continuum” when you take the clipboard off to continue using it.
Surface Book trackpad
The large, glass trackpad with 5 touch points feels great on the fingers–it’s smooth and responsive, like skating on ice.
When in laptop mode, you cannot open up the whole thing flat the way you can with a regular clamshell laptop. So if you’re drawing, you either need to somehow draw with the clipboard up, or switch to tablet mode, which gives you no access to the keyboard. You can’t use the keyboard base unless it’s attached. So if you want to use keyboard shortcuts, you will need to use the on-screen keyboard, a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, or try some Photoshop actions.
Despite the Surface Pro being laptop-first, when in laptop mode the clipboard wobbles a bit. The keyboard base and the tablet are roughly equal in weight, but it seems it would balance better were the screen considerably lighter than the keyboard. However, it isn’t too bad.
New Surface Pen
Blue Surface Pen. The one that comes with the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 is silver.
The new Surface Pen is a great improvement over the old. First of all, it now has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity (after Microsoft spent some time assuring us that 256 was fine and most of us agreed). It’s still N-trig (Microsoft has purchased the technology behind N-trig, so it’s here to stay, and it’s nice to see them improving it with artists in mind). There’s now a cushiony eraser on the back. The pen has only one button now; the previous pen used one of the buttons to activate an eraser. You can click to open OneNote or double-click to take a screenshot and put the image into OneNote.
Best of all, the pen comes with 4 nibs, including artist pencil nibs of 2H, H, HB, and H, and a fine-point pen. HB is the preinstalled tip. The nibs have some friction, giving some tooth to the drawing experience so it feels more like paper. The old pens did not come with extra nibs, the nibs didn’t last long, and there was no way to replace them; you had to buy a new pen. The pen takes one AAAA battery. Microsoft says this pen will have reduced latency (less lag). Testing it, it still has some lag, perhaps a bit less than the SP3. The pen has a solid heft to it.
Pen tip kit
Because of the replaceable nibs, this new pen should last much longer; it’s more economical and less wasteful. If your nibs wear out or get lost, you can buy an extra nib kit. It’s backward-compatible with the Surface Pro 3 (with which you would still get 256 levels of pressure sensitivity) and will also work with the Surface Pro 4 (which gives you the full 1,024 levels). Microsoft claims the pen has a full year of battery life. The pen barrel comes in five colors– charcoal, blue, red, silver and gold. The Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 come with the pen, but not the nib kit, which is inexpensive. If you buy an additional pen, that pen will come with the nib kit.
Surface Pen nib test
HB pencil on smooth canvas in Fresh Paint
B tip on smooth canvas in Fresh Paint
B tip on rough canvas in Fresh Paint
The B tip does look more like a pencil line. You can choose a brush that says, say, 4H and still use the 2B pencil, which I find a little hard to wrap my mind around. Every brush you choose will look a bit different with the different nibs.
Writing with the Surface Pen is not bad, but isn’t quite as natural as on paper–harder than with Wacom, but easier than using an iPad with a basic capacitive stylus.
When using the eraser tip, the eraser size doesn’t adjust in OneNote, it wipes out a large area, but in art programs it’s adjustable.
The issue with slowly-drawn diagonal lines being wavy is still there, and it’s just a function of the digitizer and the rate at which it “polls” the data. There are some ways to fix it, such as using Lazy Nezumi or a line smoother such as in Manga Studio. Or just draw lines more quickly. There is a definite and palpable improvement with the new pen and increased pressure levels. To me, N-trig is still not as satisfying as Wacom to draw with but it’s not because of the jitter. However, many artists really like N-trig. It’s best to try it out. The Surface Book is an ambitious concept and I hope we see more laptop-first tablet PCs with detachable tablets as these are ideal for drawing.
The Surface Dock doesn’t come with the Surface Book or any computer. It’s not necessary for everyone, but is useful. It sports two 4K-capable DisplayPort outputs and four USB 3.0 ports. It also has an Ethernet port, which the Book itself lacks. The dock is compatible with the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book. (There’s a different dock that works with the SP 1 and 2.)
fast (Microsoft claims that with the discrete graphics, it’s effectively twice as fast as the MacBook Pro)
wide color gamut
1700:1 contrast ratio gives deep blacks
very high-resolution display (267 ppi vs. MacBook Pro’s 232)
heavy with keyboard attached
a bit top-heavy
dirt can get onto keyboard when closed due to gap (suggest keeping it in a sleeve)
This is a powerful computer, though it has been marred by some battery-charging issues. you’re trying to decide between this and the Surface Pro 4 and primarily want it for drawing, you would probably be fine with the Surface Pro 4, which has an improved keyboard. The i5 Surface Pro 4 is considerably cheaper than the i5 Surface Book.
If you want a more solid keyboard, a larger drawing surface, or if the discrete graphics are important to you, then the Surface Book would be the way to go. It also is just nice-looking. It certainly could be a solution to the artist who wants a laptop too.
If you’re interested in the history of PixelSense tech, here it is on Wikipedia.
See more Microsoft Surface Book reviews, price, and info on Amazon